Tailor made: Behind the Scenes at Eytys

For the third stop in our series “Reveal the Iconic You”, we travelled up north to visit the unique shoe brand Eytys in Stockholm, produced in collaboration with smart. Meet Co-Founder Max Schiller and his dog, Bobbie

En route to Stockholm to interview Eytys’ Creative Director and Co-Founder Max Schiller, I was excited to find out everything about the very special recipe that saw the brand drop a simple product into an already oversaturated market and emerge as such a success. After all, they’re already selling to major concept stores – Colette in Paris, The Store in Berlin, not to mention all the big online retailers from mytheresa.com to Net-a-Porter and Matches – and that in the space of just three short years.

That is one reason – amongst many others that you’ll read about here – why I chose Eytys as the next destination of my inspirational journey, that I experience together with smart and their BRABUS tailor made program, to find out what true craft and individual style means to the designers.

The third in this exciting four-part series, Eytys is the perfect stop to look closer at the theme of “material”. And especially because they are so new to the market, yet so perfected in their output, I wanted to understand more about how a sneaker like the black suede Mother with its chunky white rubber soles was born – and then went on to quickly take over the fashion world (and the majority of my shoe collection).

Now let’s get right down to the nitty-gritty with Max and his dog, Bobbie (aka Eytys’ “office mood manager”):

Moodboard Eytys

Veronika Heilbrunner: Can you tell me a little bit about the Eytys story? How did you and Jonathan (Hirschfeld, Eytys’ Co-Founder and CEO, and Max’s best friend since kindergarten) get the idea to start a sneaker brand?

Max Schiller: I would say it was a process. Jonathan and I have always been into sneakers. Back when we were kids, they were the first thing we would buy with our money. We had to have the perfect sneakers, even when we were 12 years old. And then later, I was looking for a special sort of style. I was even scanning eBay for Second World War deck shoes.

I read that you had an Ebay addiction…

MS: Yeah, and I still have it. Unfortunately. My girlfriend says “If you buy one more broken lamp…”

You don’t only collect sneakers?

MS: I don’t collect sneakers anymore. I make them instead.

When did you make your first pair of sneakers?

MS: I wanted a pair of sneakers and couldn’t find what I was looking for. That was about four years ago. Then I started to draw. So I bought a pair of sneakers and some clay, but I messed up the proportions. I liked it anyway and thought: “this is something I would wear!” So I started looking for suppliers and finally found someone who agreed to produce a sample, which is quite hard when you’re new to the business.

That first prototype was the Mother, I’m guessing?

MS: Exactly, but still evolving into the Mother as it is now. It looked much different in the beginning.

The most significant design feature of the Mother, and what everybody recognizes, is the thicker platform sole. Were you intentionally going for a chunky look?

MS: Yes, I was. But the shoe is also more closed than it was at first, with a tighter opening.

What’s the Eytys signature?

MS: I would say: taking sneakers that everybody has seen, but then messing up the proportions to make them something different. I think that gives the wearer a sort of confidence. It doesn’t matter which of our models. They are bolder and chunkier, without being extreme in any way.

What is your favorite material to work with?

MS: That depends. I like suede a lot. You can get really vibrant colors out of suede. And rubber. Real, heavy rubber – not the lightweight stuff. It should have a certain weight to it.

The heavy rubber also takes the design away from being a sports shoe.

MS: I mean, it is. A couple of decades ago, sports shoes were always heavy. There’s been a revolution in terms of how they are made. You could say ours are like sports shoes from 40 years ago or something, when they were made out of solid rubber.

Have you ever thought about making a “performance” sneaker at some point?

MS: We have a new style now that is inspired by ultramarathons and is super “performance”. I’ve been running in them, and they work well for that, but it’s also not the point of them. It’s just the look. We are not a sports brand…I don’t think I am sporty enough to have a sports brand. Neither is Jonathan.

Maybe in ten years you will have totally changed, and then a sports brand will make sense.

MS: Yeah, my best friend used to have a rock ‘n’ roll inspired denim brand. Then he stopped drinking. Now he has a running brand instead, which represents his new lifestyle. You never know.

So, what does tailor-made mean to you?

MS: I quite like specially made products. Things shouldn’t be too easily accessible, in any sense. I think the process of getting something enhances the value of it, and I like it when you have the feeling that someone worked a lot on a product.

Are you thinking about offering tailor-made services to your customers at some point?

MS: It would be really fun and interesting to offer tailor-made services. For right now, I don’t see how we could manage that logistically – but in the future I would love to investigate that further. It’s a good idea. Thank you.

What is your best seller?

MS: It feels like it changes every week. Overall, it has been the Mother in black (whether canvas or suede). But now Doya is doing really well, which I am really happy about. In general, the colors black and white are always our best sellers.

How do you work with customer feedback?

MS: I think there are two different types of customer feedback. One is about comfort or quilting improvements. I think that type of feedback is very important and we listen to it a lot. Every Monday we gather all of the feedback together in a meeting and see what we want to do with it.

The other kind is in terms of design or what’s popular. I try to be ahead of the game and if I focus on that too much – what is relevant and what people want now – it slows my process down. So I ignore it, to be honest.

Why did you start with only one style?

MS: At that time, to be honest, it was because there was just one kind of shoe I wanted and couldn’t find. Then eventually, I felt like “OK, now I’m sick of wearing these shoes every single day for four years.” So I said: “Let’s try something new.”

What was the second style you made?

MS: The second really new style was the Doja. Which is what I am wearing right now.

So, you really design for yourself?

MS: For myself, my friends, and my girlfriend. Yeah, I do. And I’ve received a lot of criticism for that, actually. I have a hard time getting into someone else’s mindset and creating something I wouldn’t wear myself, for example. I don’t understand how to do that and find it very interesting to see a designer who can. It’s a real talent that I wish I had. And if I could do that, I guess I’d be very rich.

Tell me a little bit about your process. How do you come up with ideas?

MS: It’s very different. But to kick off the season, I try to always go on a trip somewhere and clear my mind to get into a new mindset.

Where did you go on your last trip?

MS: Tokyo. Or, in this case, around Japan. In my opinion, it’s the best place to go. There is so much to see – so many impressions.

How will we see Japan in the collection?

MS: I work with so many different aspects of the brand. You’ll see it more in the brand’s physical environment – like the stores or campaigns – than in the design of the shoes.

Going to Japan is great. It has great art, for example. There is this island called Naoshima which is famous for its art museums and installations, and it’s very inspiring. But it’s eight hours away from Tokyo and it’s really hard to get there: first the fast train, then the slow train, then a little walk, then a ferry, and then a bus. It was quite a trip. Which is good, because if it’s hard to get somewhere, you can be sure there won’t be a lot of people there. And that’s nice. Going into an environment like that, you have a clear mind. You get zen and are surrounded by beautiful things and that gets your mind going. And then maybe you come up with an idea that has nothing to do with where you are and what you’re looking at. You become very perceptive.

I am also interested in hearing about the technical perspective. How do you make the first sample of a style, and how many times does it come back from production until you’re satisfied with it?

MS: So many times – sometimes 10 or even more. Even after it gets released, we keep working on it and tweaking it. We are still working on the Mother, which has been in stores for three years now. It’s a process of constant improvement, always making new samples with new constructions and everything. And I am terrible with that. I usually need lots of samples to get it right.

Is the actual manufacturing process complicated?

MS: It is! We make all of our shoes’ soles ourselves – as opposed to many other brands that buy their soles from a sole company. And it’s a very expensive process, so you can’t afford to be wrong. Therefore, we need to start by making them in 3D prints: the soles come back from the printer and then we attach the upper to the 3D printed sole to see how it looks. What happens a lot is that they look good, but since they’re made of some really fragile type of plastic, you can’t try them on. Then you actually order the rubber sole, put the shoes together, and they arrive in the office and it’s like: They look great in your hand and on paper, but they don’t look great on the foot. That’s when you have to start all over again.

That’s very interesting that you make the soles yourself. Is that because you couldn’t find the right supplier to do the samples, or did you decide to do that from the beginning?

MS: It has something to do with the fact that, when we started, I felt that all the shoes on the market looked the same. They all had the same sole. At the end of the day, you go to a web shop and look at sneakers and they all look exactly the same – maybe with some different details or materials. That was not what I wanted. So I realized that if I wanted to do this, we needed to make all the soles from scratch.

How do you deal with the high cost of making your own soles?

MS: The good thing is that when you have all the models finished, you can multiply them. But then again, it also makes every new launch quite risky since it is such a big investment. Which is also the reason why we don’t do many releases. We keep it simple.

That brings me to the most important question: When you’re getting ready for the office in the morning, do you text Jonathan to see if you are wearing the same shoes?

MS: (smirks) No. We have quite different styles, which is good. And even if we wear the same shoes – which has happened probably 3000 times by now – it’s fine. I mean, we just had one shoe in the beginning, so we had to wear the same ones all the time.

VH: We do that sometimes, too. Julia has been always wearing Converse since basically forever and I started to wear them this year, too. But when we get photos taken, we plan very carefully who’s going to wear the white ones or the black ones. Now she is going to switch to Eytys ;-)!

So, how was your and Jonathan’s first day in the Eytys office?

MS: Well, it wasn’t an office to start. It was in my mother’s kitchen for the first couple of months.

Is that where the name of the first shoes comes from, the Mother?

MS: There are many aspects to the name. It comes as a tribute to our mothers, who have been very present in the whole process since the beginning, and still are. But I also saw it as the mothership, kind of like “this is where we started the whole thing”.

And going back to your question about the office. The whole thing started by working in my mom’s apartment. Then it was the old storage closet in a friend’s office, which was under the stairs, behind the toilet, and something like 4m2. But there was free coffee included in the rent, so we thought it was a really good deal! He probably lost money on us. And after about eight months there, we got a real office.

And how did that feel?

MS: Great. Anything that wasn’t a basement felt great.

We hope to see you do more. Also hopefully in Berlin. I’ve heard some rumors…

MS: Then, you know more than I do now.

How did you feel when you held the first pair of perfect Eytys sneakers in your hands?

MS: I’m still waiting for that day! We are constantly perfecting something that is really good, but it’s never perfect.

Where did the name Eytys come from?

MS: First of all, Jonathan and I were both born in the 80s, and then we decided to spell it with “y”s to represent Generation Y. Generation Y has a big role in everything, because we were the first generation to grow up with the internet and pop culture while also being multi-creative, multi-tasking, and multi-cultural – we wanted to bring that forward.

Where do you think will you be in 10 years?

MS: That is a good question. I hope we’re doing exactly the same thing, just on a bigger scale. I think what we are doing is really fun. Breaking new boundaries, collaborating with new artists that we like, building stores… Building the store here in Stockholm was such a fun project. I’d love to do that more.

Thank you to Eytys for the excellent cooperation.

PhOTOS & VIDEO: JULIA ZIERER
REPORTER / PRODUKTION MANAGER: VERONIKA HEILBRUNNER
PRODUKTION MANAGER: JULIA KNOLLE
PRODUKTION ASSISTENZ: CATARINA MARQUES TELES
MUSIK / VIDEO: LUCY BY PLASTIC FLOWERS

Born and raised in Munich/Germany, Veronika’s professional career has developed from being a model to a fashion editor, to online luxury retailing and most recently style editor of Harpers Bazaar Germany. She currently lives in Berlin where in the beginning of 2015 she started a company with Julia Knolle, the ex-editor at large of Vogue Digital.
Oh, and she loves pugs!